Transnational Ruptures: Gender and Forced Migration

By Sztainbok, Vannina | Resources for Feminist Research, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Transnational Ruptures: Gender and Forced Migration


Sztainbok, Vannina, Resources for Feminist Research


Transnational Ruptures: Gender and Forced Migration Catherine Nolin Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006; 246 pp.

With this book, Catherine Nolin makes visible the historical-geographical specificity of a little studied population, and interrogates some common understandings in migration studies. Transnational Ruptures looks at the experiences and narratives of Guatemalans who came to Canada fleeing political violence, a migration that peaked from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Nolin foregrounds the impact of "state violence in Guatemala and immigration/refugee policy in Canada" on refugee journeys, settlement experiences, and on social relations across borders (p. 58). As with any focused study, this means that other aspects of the immigrant/refugee experience receive less attention. Thus, following a discussion of the relevance of Transnational Ruptures, I will briefly address a matter that is critical for all social researchers: What is included and what is left out through a specific methodological gaze?

One of the central questions raised by the book is regarding what makes research transnational? Is it transnational because the subjects of the study have crossed borders, or because the researchers have? For Nolin, the answer lies in the linking up of political/social/economic processes and networks that traverse geographies. Transnational Ruptures is by no means positing one transnational perspective. A valuable overview of transnational studies (chapter 2) foregrounds the insights, tensions, and contradictions in this broad field. The language of "transnationality" itself is interrogated as the study dispels any illusion that the participants of the study are enmeshed in "transnational circuits." Instead, "immobility" characterizes their lives due to continued fear of violence and economic hardship. Canadian travel restrictions for Guatemalans "serve more often than not to reinforce the ruptures of family rather than facilitate transnational flows" (p. 163).

Nolin also concurs with those scholars who note that transnational movement does not undermine the nation state. The increase in the number of Guatemalan refugees in the 1980s led to the reification of national boundaries through more restrictive immigration requirements in Canada and a crack down on "illegal refugees" in the US. Through an analysis of statistical data, Nolin connects these political moves to changes in refugee routes. Since they could no longer travel directly from Guatemala to Canada, many were forced to make the dangerous overland passage through Mexico and the US, to seek asylum at the Canada/US border. For Nolin (p. 106), this demonstrates the power of government policy, as well as the agency of those fleeing violence.

Nolin and her assistant, Finola Shankar, do cross borders. They interviewed refugees and immigrants living in various cities in Ontario, as well as relatives who remain in Guatemala, regarding the effects of forced relocation on their families. The multi-sited aspect of the research enriches the complexity of these histories. Interviews with relatives sometimes reveal discrepant accounts of the events leading to exile and beyond. Instead of dismissing the participants' claims, Nolin (p. 127) draws on, and extends, feminist theorizing about the narration of experience. Aware that her own positioning as researcher may inform participants' responses, she posits that the contradictions are constituted through trauma. People are strategic regarding what they can tell, and what they must tell, in order to make sense of the violence and displacements that mark their lives. And what they can say depends on where they are located. …

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